Pro Bono Program
At KU Law, we encourage students to make a commitment to pro bono service as part of their professional lives. Lawyers — and law students — have specialized skills, and with those skills comes a responsibility to serve. Performing pro bono service in law school is a great way to give back to the community while gaining hands-on legal experience that enriches your legal education and better prepares you for practice.
Pro bono service is uncompensated, supervised, law-related work that benefits the public. Students who complete 50 hours of pro bono service during their law school career will be honored at graduation. Additionally, students who complete 15 hours or more of pro bono service during the academic year will be recognized on the annual Pro Bono Honor Roll. The law school informs students as new pro bono opportunities become available, but students may also find their own placements that meet the program requirements.
Personal and professional rewards through pro bono service
Melanie Brewer, L’16
I am a CASA volunteer. CASA stands for court-appointed special advocate, and my responsibility is to advocate for a child in a child-in-need-of-care (CINC) case. This entails listening and understanding my child’s needs and wishes. I speak with everyone involved in my child’s life — from family to teachers and social workers. I gather information to understand and explain what is happening in my child’s life and to voice my child’s needs and wishes in reports to the court.
As a CASA, I advocate for what my child needs. Early on, I noticed her speech was behind and she was throwing tantrums out of frustration. I thought she could use help. In a court report, I explained the behavior I saw and recommended speech therapy and individual therapy. The court made both of my recommendations “tasks” to complete on her case plan. My child completed speech therapy and individual therapy. She now speaks clearly and can articulate her frustrations. It has been so rewarding to witness her growth.
I think as a law student being a CASA is rewarding personally and professionally. I learned how CINC cases work. I write court reports. I speak with others involved in the case, both family members and professionals. Serving as a CASA gives you experience with skills that can’t be taught. You learn to listen, not just with your ears. And you walk away knowing you make a difference — even if only to one child.
What is pro bono?
At KU Law, we define pro bono service as uncompensated, supervised, law-related work that benefits the public. Specifically, pro bono service is law-related work performed for the benefit of:
- persons of limited means or other underserved communities;
- not-for-profit organizations;
- individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or promote access to justice, including, but not limited to, the protection of civil rights, civil liberties, or public rights; or
- a judicial, legislative, executive, or other governmental entity.
Law-related work performed to benefit a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (or to assist in the formation of the 501(c)(3)) presumptively qualifies for pro bono hours. Law-related work performed to benefit a for-profit organization presumptively does not qualify for pro bono hours. To confirm whether a for-profit opportunity qualifies for pro bono hours, students should seek pre-approval as explained on the Apply for Pre-Approval/Certification tab.
Additionally, pro bono service must be:
Students may not receive any compensation or academic credit for their service. Pro bono hours do not include any service performed for the purpose of fulfilling a requirement of a law school class or certificate program. Additionally, the legal services to the client must be provided for free or at a substantially reduced rate.
Example: If a student does unpaid legal research for a local attorney on cases in which the clients are paying regular rates, the student’s work is not considered pro bono. However, if the student does the same work, for no compensation or academic credit, for an attorney who is representing an indigent client pro bono or through a court appointment, the student’s work would count toward pro bono hours.
Example: A student participates in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for 30 hours. The student is also working toward a certificate in tax law, which requires a minimum of 20 hours of participation with VITA or a similar program. Because the student is fulfilling an academic requirement for the tax law certificate, the student may only count as pro bono hours those hours performed in excess of the 20-hour requirement. In this case, the student has performed 10 hours of pro bono service.
Example: A student works for a legal services organization and receives academic credit through the Field Placement Program. After fulfilling the hours requirement for the Field Placement Program, the student continues to work for the organization for no compensation and no academic credit. If the work otherwise meets the definition of pro bono service, the student may count as pro bono the hours worked above and beyond the Field Placement Program requirement.
Students must be supervised by an attorney, faculty member, or other qualified supervisor. The supervisor must provide the appropriate level of oversight for the work being performed and be able to verify the students’ pro bono hours. Students should be diligent in reviewing and complying with the applicable ethics rules of the jurisdiction. A non-attorney supervisor is presumed to be qualified to supervise a student if the supervisor has specialized training or expertise, or a minimum of two years of experience, in the relevant field. However, a non-attorney supervisor may not supervise a student in the provision of legal services. If you have any questions about whether a non-attorney may supervise your work, please contact the chair of the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee.
Example: A student is working, for no compensation, for a nonprofit organization that addresses environmental issues. The student conducts research on recent environmental policy developments and assists in developing policy statements for the organization. The student is supervised by a non-attorney legislative liaison who has worked in the field for several years. Because the student is not engaged in the practice of law, the legislative liaison, who has expertise in the field, is qualified to supervise the student’s work.
Example: A student is serving as a court-appointed special advocate through the Douglas County Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organization. The student is supervised by a non-attorney volunteer coordinator. Although the student is performing law-related work and using advocacy skills, the student is not giving legal advice or practicing law. Therefore, the specially trained volunteer coordinator is qualified to supervise the student’s work.
Example: A student is working as a legal intern for a legal aid organization. The student performs legal research, drafts pleadings, assists with client interviews, and occasionally appears in court, with a supervising attorney, on behalf of indigent clients. Because the student is providing direct legal services, the student must be supervised by a licensed attorney. Additionally, to appear in court with clients in Kansas, the student also needs a valid Legal Intern Permit, pursuant to Kansas Supreme Court Rule 719.
What kinds of work count toward pro bono hours?
When performed for no compensation or academic credit, the following are examples of work that would count toward pro bono hours:
- Working for a legal services organization;
- Serving as a court advocate through The Willow Domestic Violence Center;
- Serving as a court-appointed special advocate for children through Douglas County CASA;
- Volunteering through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program;
- Working with a private attorney on a pro bono or court-appointed case;
- Working in a prosecutor’s office, for a judge, or at a government agency;
- Performing legal research, drafting documents, or assisting in policy advocacy for a nonprofit organization.
What kinds of work do not count toward pro bono hours?
- Volunteering for a political campaign or engaging in fundraising efforts;
- Working on law review or journal;
- Performing non-law-related community service, such as volunteering for a food pantry or youth organization;
- Working on pro bono cases within the context of paid employment;
- Performing research or otherwise assisting faculty with scholarship.
Students are encouraged to seek approval of their pro bono opportunity before performing their service hours; however, pre-approval is not mandatory.
Students seeking pre-approval should submit the Pro Bono Pre-Approval Form (PDF) to the chair of the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee.
All requests for pre-approval should include:
- the name of the proposed placement;
- contact information for the organization, including the proposed supervisor, if known;
- a brief explanation of how the work fits within the above definition of pro bono service; and
- be made at least two weeks before work should commence, or earlier, if possible.
How do I turn in my hours?
- Complete the Pro Bono Certification Form (PDF) and have your supervisor sign it.
- Turn in the form to the Chair of the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee by following the instructions on the form.
Students should turn in certification forms as soon as each pro bono project is completed, or, for ongoing projects, each semester. The deadline to be recognized in the annual Pro Bono Honor Roll is the second Friday in April each year.
Chair of the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee: Meredith Schnug, firstname.lastname@example.org, 785-864-9291, Legal Aid Clinic, 105 Green Hall
Frequently Asked Questions
I am working for a government agency or nonprofit legal organization over the summer. I am not being paid, but I did receive a small public interest stipend to help with my living expenses. Does the stipend count as compensation?
For KU’s pro bono program, a de minimus stipend is not considered compensation. Generally, a stipend of $500 or less for 8 weeks of full-time work (or the equivalent rate) is not considered compensation. If you are uncertain about how to count your pro bono hours when receiving a stipend, please contact the chair of the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee.
Does training count toward pro bono hours?
Students may count up to 6 hours of training as pro bono hours when it is necessary to complete the pro bono service, provided that the student then completes the equivalent or more hours in related pro bono service. Example: A student attends a 4-hour training to do pro bono work for a nonprofit agency. If the student then completes only 2 hours of pro bono work, the student may only count 2 hours of training toward pro bono hours (for a total of 4 hours).
After graduation, I am going to practice in another state that has a pro bono requirement for admission to the bar. Will my pro bono hours here count toward the requirement for the other state?
It depends. For example, KU’s definition of pro bono service is similar to, but not entirely the same as, New York’s. One difference is that New York requires a student’s pro bono work to be supervised by an attorney. Therefore, it is important to check the requirement in the jurisdiction where you will seek admission to the bar to make sure that your work will count toward that requirement as well.
Who will be recognized at graduation?
Students who have completed a minimum of 50 pro bono hours during their time in law school will be recognized at graduation. Students may list “Pro Bono Distinction” on their resume for receiving this recognition. Students may count pro bono hours that were performed any time during the student’s law school career. Graduating students must complete their hours and turn in the required documentation by the second Friday of April in order to be recognized at graduation.
For students in the Class of 2017: If you have completed 20 hours or more of pro bono service during your law school career, please turn in your hours to the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee to be considered for appropriate recognition. (See Apply for Approval/Certification for the process to submit hours.)
Example: A student who will graduate in May 2017 completed pro bono hours in her first year of law school, before the Pro Bono Program was in place. The student may still count those hours, provided she turns in the Pro Bono Certification Form with a supervisor signature.
Who else will be recognized?
At the end of each school year, all students completing 15 or more pro bono hours will be listed on the Pro Bono Honor Roll. Students must complete their hours and turn in the required documentation by the second Friday of April in order to be recognized on the annual Honor Roll. For purposes of the Honor Roll, pro bono hours completed within the current academic year will be counted.
How may I list pro bono recognition on my resume?
Students who make the annual Pro Bono Honor Roll for having completed 15 or more pro bono hours during the academic year may state on their resume that they were listed on the Pro Bono Honor Roll for the applicable academic year. Students who are recognized at graduation for performing 50 or more pro bono hours during their law school career may state on their resume that they earned “Pro Bono Distinction.”
How do I find pro bono opportunities?
There are several ongoing pro bono opportunities available through the law school and local organizations. As new opportunities become available, they will be listed in the law school’s weekly email to students, but students are also encouraged to find their own opportunities.
Can student organizations coordinate pro bono opportunities?
Yes. Student organizations are encouraged to develop pro bono opportunities. Remember that the work must be law-related and supervised, so community service projects will not count. Please feel free to contact the Chair of the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee to discuss your idea.
What if I am told my hours will not count, and I disagree with that decision?
Students may file a written appeal for the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee to review. The committee will then issue a final decision regarding the appeal.
Chair of the Faculty/Student Pro Bono Committee: Meredith Schnug, email@example.com, 785-864-9291, Legal Aid Clinic, 105 Green Hall